Rigsby v. GoDaddy Inc.

Decision Date14 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. CV-19-05710-PHX-MTL,CV-19-05710-PHX-MTL
PartiesScott Rigsby, et al., Plaintiffs, v. GoDaddy Incorporated, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Arizona
ORDER

Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint filed by Defendants GoDaddy Inc., Inc., GoDaddy.com, LLC ("GoDaddy"), Go Daddy Operating Company, LLC, and Desert Newco, LLC (collectively, "Defendants"). (Doc. 89.) For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted; the Third Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.1

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are derived from the Third Amended Complaint. (Doc. 86.) As a young man, Plaintiff Scott Rigsby suffered serious injuries when a tractor trailer collided with a pickup truck that itself had a trailer in tow. Mr. Rigsby was a passenger riding in the bed of that pickup. The impact ejected him. His body then became trapped by the pickup's trailer. He was dragged for about 324 feet. Mr. Rigsby spent the next 12 years in medical care and underwent 26 surgeries. Both of Mr. Rigsby's legs were ultimately amputated andhe was provided prosthetics. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

In the years following the accident, Mr. Rigsby defied expectations by training for and competing in Iron Man Triathlons. In 2007 he established the Scott Rigsby Foundation Inc., the other plaintiff in this case, for the purpose of raising money for persons with disabilities and promoting himself as a motivational speaker. Mr. Rigsby registered a domain name, www.scottrigsbyfoundation.org (the "Domain Name") with GoDaddy.com for the foundation around that time. Plaintiffs acknowledge that to register a website with GoDaddy, Mr. Rigsby necessarily consented to GoDaddy's Universal Terms of Service Agreement ("UTSA"). (Id. ¶ 30; at 32-75.)

Mr. Rigsby alleges that he "paid for the domain name through the first portion of 2018 through the GoDaddy.com website," believed to be operated by GoDaddy Operating Company, LLC. (Id. ¶ 21.) But, Mr. Rigsby alleges, there was a "glitch in GoDaddy.com's billing to Rigsby in the spring of 2018." (Id. ¶ 25.) Mr. Rigsby alleges that he "did not timely receive a bill for the cost of maintaining the domain name" and, as a result, he did not pay the bill. (Id. ¶ 26.) Having not paid, his rights to the Domain Name were forfeited. An unknown third party, which Plaintiffs refer to as the "hijacker," then purchased the Domain Name from GoDaddy once it became available. (Id. ¶ 27.) Mr. Rigsby attempted to work with GoDaddy to re-register the Domain Name before filing this lawsuit. (Id. ¶¶ 26-29.)

The website content now associated with the Domain Name promotes gambling. (Id. ¶ 41.) It provides users with "betting tips, football betting picks, insider betting information for a price, etc.—solicitations for activities with which The [Scott Rigsby] Foundation has no connection." (Id.) It "use[s] the name of The [Scott Rigsby] Foundation and the name of Scott Rigsby" without consent. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants refuse "to terminate the use of the domain name scottrigsbyfoundation.org by the hijacker and . . . allow Scott Rigsby to re-register the domain name." (Id. ¶ 39.)

This case was initially filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. That court granted GoDaddy's Motion to Transfer Venue to the Districtof Arizona. (Doc. 39.) Plaintiffs then filed their Second Amended Complaint in this Court, which Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Docs. 59, 62.) At the conclusion of the parties' oral argument on the prior motion to dismiss, the Court granted Defendants' motion for failure to state a cognizable claim for relief or "well pled allegations to support any of those claims for relief." (Doc. 74 at 36.) It permitted Plaintiffs 21 days to file a Third Amended Complaint.

Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, now pending, asserts the same claims as did the Second Amended Complaint: for injunctive relief, a federal Lanham Act claim, invasion of privacy/publicity, trade libel, libel, declaratory relief, and violations of A.R.S. § 44-1522 (unlawful trade practices). (Doc. 86 at 19-27.) Defendants now move to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim and failure to correct the legal deficiencies that led to the dismissal of the Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 89.) The motion is now fully briefed.2 (Docs. 95, 98.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 545, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) "can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). A complaint should not be dismissed "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle it to relief." Williamson v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 208 F.3d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

The Court must accept material allegations in the Complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. North Star Int'l v. Arizona Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 580 (9th Cir. 1983). "Indeed, factual challenges to a plaintiff's complaint have no bearing on the legal sufficiency of the allegations under Rule 12(b)(6)." Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). Review of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is "limited to the content of the complaint." North Star Int'l, 720 F.2d at 581. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint makes few substantive changes to the previously-dismissed Second Amended Complaint. The Court has identified only two new factual allegations.3 First, Plaintiffs allege in the Third Amended Complaint that only GoDaddy—as opposed to the other defendants—has a valid contract (the UTSA) with Plaintiffs. See, e.g., Doc. 86 ¶ 10 ("ONLY GoDaddy.com, LLC has a purported electronically signed 'contract' with Plaintiffs."); ¶ 31 ("Neither GoDaddy Inc., GoDaddy Operating Company, LLC nor Desert Newco, LLC had any contract with the Scott Rigsby Foundation ever—not when The Foundation first procured the domain name in 2007, and never subsequent to that date."); ¶ 34 ("GoDaddy Inc., GoDaddy Operating Company, and Desert Newco, LLC are in no way protected in their actions by the UTSA as they are not parties to it."). Second, the Third Amended Complaint alleges that the UTSA is periodically revised, and the most recent revision provides that domain names automatically renew by default. See, e.g., id. ¶ 48 ("Now the USTA provides for automatic renewal of domain names, a 180% [sic] change from the policy that allowed the hijacking."); ¶ 49 ([T]he aforementioned update to the USTA "100% acknowledges the validity of Plaintiffs' position from the inception of this case, and particularly the ongoingharm the previous policy the Defendants asserted to Rigsby in this very case caused."). As addressed below, neither of these allegations remedy the Second Amended Complaint's pleading deficiencies.

A. Lanham Act (Count II)

Plaintiffs assert a claim under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), which prohibits the use of false or misleading designations of origin, descriptions, or representations in the sale of goods or services. They allege that Defendants "control" the Domain Name and are "knowingly providing" it "in a way in which deceives as to whether Scott Rigsby and his Foundation sponsor or approve of, or actually offer as a part of their commercial activities, online betting services." (Doc. 86 ¶ 52.) Plaintiffs also state that Defendants are "misrepresenting the characteristics of the Foundation's services," and that, but for Defendants' hosting activities, "the online betting service's hijacking activities could never be seen." (Id.) The Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiffs have not stated a valid Lanham Act claim.

1. Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act

First, Plaintiffs' Lanham Act claim fails because GoDaddy is exempt from liability as a domain name registrar. The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA") "was enacted in 1999 to protect consumers and to prevent misappropriation of trademarks by stopping conduct known as 'cybersquatting.'" City of Carlsbad v. Shah, 850 F. Supp. 2d 1087, 1103 (S.D. Cal. 2012). The ACPA specifically limits liability for "domain name registrars" under the Lanham Act: a "domain name registrar, a domain name registry . . . shall not be liable for damages under this section for the registration or maintenance of a domain name for another absent a showing of bad faith intent to profit from such registration or maintenance of the domain name." 15 U.S.C. § 1114(2)(D)(iii). Because § 1114 sets forth remedies for the Lanham Act as a whole, Courts have interpreted this provision to limit liability for domain name registrars under § 1125(a) of the Lanham Act, as alleged here. See, e.g., Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy.com, Inc., 737 F.3d 546, 551 (9th Cir. 2013) ("By its terms, Section 1114(2)(D)(iii), applies only to 'thissection,' meaning Section 1114. Section 1114, in turn, sets out remedies for the entire Lanham Act, including actions brought under Section 1125(a)."); InvenTel Prod., LLC v. Li, 406 F. Supp. 3d 396, 402 (D.N.J. 2019) ("Because Section 1114 provides the remedy for all Lanham Act violations, Section 1114(2)(D) limits liability for Section 1125 claims despite...

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